Global Film Initiative // 2007 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // February 17th, 2011
He knows many stories but doesn't realize it yet.
Deep in rural Brazil, young Thiago (Thiago da Silva Mariz)lives with his family who does what they can to survive. His life has its moments of joy but these moments are offset by his destitute life and abusive father. Thiago is a dreamer and imagines a better life, but never though it could happen. One day, though, a stranger comes to his farm with an unexpected gift that allows him the opportunity he always wanted.
I'm can't get completely behind Mutum, but it works as a coming of age story. Thiago is a delightful boy, full of energy and imagination. Between the hardscrabble life and his father's oppressive behavior, however, his love of life is not fostered, but suppressed. Only his brother Felipe understands him, and he can take solace in the late nights talking with his brother about life, sin, and the weird things their parents do. During the day, Thiago is sullen and quiet while he endures his father's insults, or worse. When Filipe falls ill and dies, though, his world comes crashing down.
Like the rural life depicted, Mutum is a snail-paced affair. The long takes are effective at showing the day-to-day lives of this family, but the mere sliver of a plot means that these are ninety minutes that feel much longer. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there are a few trying times here. Milking goats and walking trails only goes so far for me, but there are also some very charming moments that make it unable to really dislike the film.
The performances are quite good, especially coming from a group of total amateurs, some never even having seen a film. Young Thiago is especially good, able to play both the wounded and the tender sides of the character with surprising skill. He's a charming kid and he really makes the picture. The characters in general are uncomplicated, but there's a palpable family atmosphere, for all the good and bad that entails. You don't see a lot of families this realistic and, while much of the time spent with them is uncomfortable, you can't argue with how right it looks.
Director Sandra Kogut uses this believability very well to blur the line between fiction and documentary. While this doesn't make for the most exciting viewing, it is heartfelt and full of life, just not very active life. Part of this also stems from the rural setting and the cinematography by Mauro Pinheiro, Jr., who shoots many scenes as though working on a nature film. It's easy to fall in love with the beauty of the landscape, but the hard existence is a harsh reminder that this beauty goes relatively unnoticed when the residents struggle for survival. Still, that's not us; as voyeurs into this family's world, we're allowed to appreciate the scenery, even when the brutality rises up.
Kogut show much less affinity for the adults than the kids, who have distinct and lovely personalities compared to the one-note characters of the grown-ups. Maybe it's a symptom of the coming-of-age film, but between the abusive father, the withered but loving mother, and overly optimistic granny, they're the same at the start as at the end. They're important to the development of Thiago, though, so it's easy to forgive.
In bringing a world of cinema into our homes, Global Films is a great project, but they don't excel and DVD production, and Mutum is very typical of their work. Image and sound are below average, but not terrible, and there are no extras.
I can see many liking Mutum more than I did, but the lack of plot or excitement makes it a little harder for my poor attention span. The cinematography is gorgeous, though, and the performances are quite realistic; I can recommend this.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Global Film Initiative
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Discussion Guide